Spring seduction

For the last five years, I haven’t been so pleased with the magazines, catalogs, radio commercials and billboards I start to see this time of year.

I feel like I’m suddenly inundated with images of sun and fun come March. In the local alt-weekly newspaper, a search for weekend activities turns up advertisements for boating festivals and oceanside cabin rentals. Every March issue of every women’s magazine urges readers to start getting fit for bikini season, to pull out the tanning lotion and to run, not walk, to the nearest Old Navy and buy the entire spring collection.

When I lived in a beach town whose four seasons are spring, slightly-colder spring, summer and spring, I didn’t mind so much. But I live in the Northwest now, and I’d rather not be reminded that though it is past March 21 and thus technically springtime, real warm weather likely won’t be upon us for months to come.

Over the weekend and earlier this week, skies in Seattle were almost suspiciously perfect. Not a cloud hovered over Seattle Saturday, and Sunday morning and afternoon were decently clear before the rain moved in.  On Wednesday, the high temperature surpassed 60.  It was the kind of weather one might see in Santa Cruz, Calif., in the middle of spring.

But now, I feel as if I dreamed the whole thing. This morning I woke up to the same gray skies and lazy rain I saw last Friday, and the sun only peeked through for a couple of hours before it disappeared again. Now, the forecast calls for the same old dreary clouds and rain.

This kind of meteorological bait-and-switch is one of the few reasons I don’t like living in the Northwest. Friends and family who still live in California often ask me, “Don’t you get sick of the rain?” I don’t, as long as it’s moderate and fairly constant. The only time rain bothers me is when it abruptly halts a multi-day run of beautiful spring weather–especially come May or June, when we expect beautiful weather after so many months of rainfall but keep getting inundated with storms.

I have countless stories of wacky spring weather in the Northwest, and I’ve only lived in the Northwest for five years.

In May 2008, a chilly rainstorm in Eugene, Ore. yielded to a weekend of suffocatingly hot weather. On Saturday, as my still-damp umbrella hung on a coat rack, I tried to walk to the corner market and nearly fainted in the heat. My roommates and I tried to sleep on the lawn in front of our house because the night air was slightly cooler than the temperatures in our stuffy bedrooms. On Monday, we walked to class amid a downpour, clad in rainboots and coats.

It rained every day for weeks leading up to my graduation ceremonies last June, forcing families and graduates to consider wearing plastic ponchos at my department’s outdoor commencement. The clouds parted for two full days of 80-degree sunny weather, and suddenly wide-brimmed hats were more appropriate. The very minute all our parents waved goodbye and drove off, the rain returned.

I grew up with such consistent temperatures and conditions that I groaned inwardly every time an editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel asked me to report on the weather during my internship there. (How many ways can I say “morning fog and afternoon sun; highs in the mid-60s,” I wondered?) Spring in Seattle is a completely different experience. In fact, the season between March and June shouldn’t be called “spring” in the Northwest; in these months, there are only short flirtations with sun sandwiched in between long spells of clouds and rain. A Northwest spring is simply a three-month tug-of-war between winter and summer.

It might sound hellish, but here’s the good news: summer eventually wins.

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Of bagpipes and neighborhood festivals

After many, many days of intense heat, Seattle has returned to the grayness for which it is known. This might be the University of Oregon alumna in me talking, but I’d take damp, dreary fog over sweltering sun any day–something I came to realize after posting a complaint about the summer clouds.

Last night I went to my first Celtic music concert in quite a while at a funky little venue over in West Seattle–which might be more aptly called South Seattle, since it’s so far south of downtown. The two groups that played deviated from the typical Celtic sound: one was heavily influenced by French Canadian and Breton folk music, so lots of the instrumentals were accompanied by French singing and a handful of the songs featured that weird triple meter I remember learning about in a Celtic music class back in school. The second group’s sound boasted a Galician influence–that’s a region of Spain that has Celtic roots–because one of the members of the group grew up in Santiago de Compostela and others in the group visited the town to learn about its music.

The concert served to remind me how many tens of subgenres there are for every musical genre. When people say “Celtic music,” it could mean so many things– it could be a folk tune from the Celts who settled in the Scottish Highlands, or a bagpipe march, or even a hypnotic Enya track.

I got overwhelmed just thinking about the dizzying array of Celtic music–imagine how overcome I might have been had I started thinking about other genres! I find that whenever there are an infinite number of possibilities in music that I get overexcited and then exhausted thinking about them.

There’s so much to entertain in this city that I get similarly overwhelmed every time I try to make weekend plans. I go over my mental list of all the things I’d like to see and do in this city while I have the chance and I wonder how I’ll fit it all in. Within just a two-block radius, there are a dozen bars to visit, an equal number of ethnic food restaurants to try, half a dozen record stores to explore, a handful of bookstores to check out, and an intriguing independent movie theater where I’d like to watch something. Heck, there’s even a local grocery store where I must shop at least once to get the full Seattle experience.

And that’s just in my immediate vicinity. When I visit other neighborhoods in the city, I’m overwhelmed all over again. As we drove to West Seattle last night, a friend from high school, another intern and I talked about all the neighborhood festivals we’d seen or read about but hadn’t actually attended so far this summer. There were car shows, seafood festivals, parades and more. There were two festivals going on the day we saw the concert. It was all so overwhelming, we agreed, that whenever we tried to make plans with so many options on the table, we tended to give up and do nothing. We must have gotten too used to our boring college towns, where often there was just one party to attend or one bar we were in the mood for. Now we have to adjust to the polar opposite.

With all these choices already in front of me, I now refuse to take recommendations from any of my sources on stories, any of my coworkers and any friends who have lived here for more than six months. They know too much. We interns know very little about this place, which is good: it means we don’t know how much we’re missing out on every night that we’re home on our couches watching TV.

The Seattle summer

A view of Puget Sound, and the globe-topped offices of the recently-folded Seattle Post-Intelligencer, from my rooftop.

According to locals, summer in Seattle doesn’t start until July 5. Everyone sits shivering on their apartment rooftops or in folding chairs at Gas Works Park on the night of Independence Day, hoping and praying the next two months won’t be as horrible as June was–and the next day, magically, the sun comes out, as if all that collective wishing willed it to do so.

So, locals–where’s the sun? I didn’t feel much in the way of warmth today, nor did I see much sunlight. Sure, I should be used to seeing gray skies–I’ve lived in Oregon for the past four years–but before now, I always escaped the clouds come June and flew south to Santa Cruz, where perfect, breezy, 75-degree sunny weather was invariably always waiting for me.

I can’t really complain about the weather, though; even on its mundane days, this city is far more exciting than Santa Cruz has ever been. It offers more nightlife, more local color (and that’s saying a lot, because Santa Cruz, like Berkeley, is known for such a thing), more job opportunities, even–dare I say it–more stunning vistas! But wouldn’t everything be all the more exciting with sun? I think so.

Despite the rainy daytime and the chilly evening, my Fourth of July couldn’t have been better. After weeks of waiting, I finally moved into my apartment. My roomie and I celebrated at Seattle International Beer Festival, which was not only tasty but also educational. By sampling beer from all over the world, I learned all about different countries’ unique brewing styles. When my fellow Times interns and I learned that anything with a beer label bearing the words “stout” or “imperial” was guaranteed to taste great and have a higher-than-average alcohol content, we raced for the booths displaying either word–we wanted to get our money’s worth!

After the festival, we raced to my apartment building and cooked up some pasta and macaroni and cheese. Later, several other friends filtered in; by the time we formed a line out the door to head up to the roof for the fireworks, there were close to 20 people there. (And they probably felt pretty unwelcome, as all we had in the way of seating was a sofa bed and a couple of bar stools!) The fireworks, both above Lake Union and across the sound at Bainbridge Island, were pretty elaborate. I hope I can stay here long enough to see them next year sans obstructive cloud.

Tomorrow will be the start of my third week at the Times. Oh how time flies…when you can’t see the sun.